A Quick Guide to Tipping Etiquette in USA

Recently Eagle’s LeSean McCoy came under a lot of public focus for leaving a tip of 20 cents even though he had a 45 million dollars extension contract for 5 years. It is not our intent to say that you have to leave tip if you are a millionaire. Unlike certain parts of world, tipping runs deep in US culture.

tipping etiquette

Photo courtesy: Dave Dugdale

Tipping etiquette is part of US culture. It is more so that it is part of the etiquette one is expected to know when you go for lunch or dinner at a restaurant or in a hotel or if you take a ride in cab. In the movie Reservoir Dogs there is an elaborate scene about the topic of tipping, that shows how tipping is an american way. But for the purposes of this article – we will see basic stuff on tipping:

Breakfast: 15% if you are served at a table and tended to. If you are at a continental breakfast kind of setting where you serve yourself and throw your own plates off – then no tip is required.

Lunch/Brunch:  15% is customary.  If you receive an exceptional service 20% is a good gesture.  The range between 15 to 20% indicates the service ranging from acceptable to excellent.  If you leave tip higher than 20% it says that you received a stellar service.

Buffet: No tip is generally required, however, if you have been served beverages or other add ons at the table then it would be a good gesture to leave a tip. 10 to 15% should be ok if you have only got ‘add ons’ (like beverages, plates etc but you got your own food from the bar).

Dinner: 15% is minimum while 20% is good.  A good rule of thumb, if you received good service, is to leave at least 18% in tip.

Party of five: Irrespective of the type of meal – if you are a party of 4 or more, make sure to check whether gratuity is included in your bill or not. Sometimes – gratuity may already been included – in which case – it is up to you whether you want to add any more tip or not.

Carry out: No tip is required, however, if your order is too big or if the person helps you with your order to your car, then do recognize it with a $2 to $5 in tip.

Fastfood: No tip required.

Too little for %?: Remember if the bill is too small, then do not go with %s – rather make sure you leave at least $2 to $5 in tip.

Taxi ride: If your ride is comfortable in the cab with clean interiors, no smell etc., then you can tip between $5-$10. If your total bill is too little to tip, even a $1 is appreciated.

Things you did not know about USA (and make your jaw drop)

Before we proceed, this article is for informational purposes only.

I was talking to one employee from Europe (forgot which country) and as part of the consulting process we talked about how the US tax system works and she mentioned that she was in relationship with a lady and wanted to find out how the tax system recognizes their status in US.  When I mentioned that US does not recognize same sex marriage, she said, “well, I cannot come into a country that does not respect my relationship”, and she rejected her ‘potential’ assignment to US. True story.

usa facts

Pic Courtesy: Vinoth Chandra

That example is little old as Internal Revenue System has now started recognizing same sex marriage for tax purposes while lot of states are still to catch up.

Are there any other areas that you did not know about US?  Read and find out the things you did not know about USA.

Being gay is illegal:  Not in all states but in some states for sure.  Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have explicitly declared being gay to be illegal and thus you can get arrested for being gay in these States.  There are 13 states that have declared Sodomy to be illegal.  Irrespective of your ideology of how liberal US as a country is, be careful about your sexual preferences while in these states.

Community property states: what is a community property state?  The states that automatically consider the assets, income and whatever you own to be owned by you and your spouse jointly, irrespective of who earns it.  If you are moving into one of these community property states, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, make sure you understand how community property rules affect you.

Legal alcohol age: Did you know that legal alcohol age is not 21 in all states and is not applicable in all situations.  Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina allow drinking under 21 without parental consent.  In many states, did you know you could get arrested if you directly or indirectly help under age person procure alcohol?  It is ok to help with grocery and alike but never lend your help in buying alcohol to anyone, no matter how old they look.

Cancer and divorce: US ranks top 6 in the world cancer nations.  US also has 52% divorce rate when looked at number of divorces to number of marriages ratio per 1000 population, as of 2011 stats. One of the many reasons why you should avoid talking about ‘too much’ personal information.

Freedom of speech is on paper (pun intended):  Prima facie US does seem to be a place where you can express yourself, and you can, as long as you do not venture out to reveal truth.  Sounds contradictory? Not when you find out that US ranks 46 (13 spots down from previous years to 2013) in press freedom. In other words, some of what you hear/see on news may be BS.

Ranks 16 on socially progressive countries list:  US is conservative, whether you like it or not. You may have been allured by the two places, California and NY, and assumed that all of US is as progressive as the two states.  Not so.  Most every state in US leans from conservative to VERY conservative.  Most notorious is the bible belt (yes, there is such a thing).

There is no official language: Surprised? Yes, English is still the language most every State uses in US but not all states have stamped English as their official language.  Only 31 states have declared English as their official language.  But there is no official language for the US as a whole, none exists at the federal level.


Seems like most of it seemed negative?  That was not the intention, so here are some good things (depends on how you look at it) about US:

  • World’s number one country when it comes to ‘highest’ paid jobs (read highest household disposable income).
  • Big food portions
  • US Sports that no other nation plays

Immigrants Guide to Etiquette

Dinner table and office etiquette helps you to be respected by those people around you. If you are a foreigner, you need to know how you are supposed to conduct yourself in the midst of your workmates, family and friends. Understanding these etiquette rules will make people respect you and feel free to interact with you.

At the dinner table, you are expected to be courteous at all times. Bad habits like talking with food in your mouth are looked down upon. It is also considered very rude if you season your food before tasting it. If you have any dietary restrictions, it is always polite if you let your host know beforehand. Simple things like holding food on the fork and waving it as you talk can appear very rude.

Photo by: Tinneketin

1170314_dinner_invitation_2It is also pleasant if you eat your food in small and manageable bites. Do not make any sounds while eating at the dinner table. Burping and loud eating noises are completely unacceptable. You need to eat slowly so that you do not finish when the other guests are not even half way done. Eating after everyone else has cleared their plate can also appear impolite.

When it comes to the office, you must maintain proper manners if you want to make a good lasting impression. Refrain from chewing gum in front of your workmates and in the presence of clients. You also need to wear the right attire to the office. Your footwear should not appear too casual. If you have any piercings and tattoos, choose office wear which covers them appropriately. What you wear will somehow reflect the level of respect you have for your job.

 Cleanliness is important so make sure you always look neat and use the right deodorant to prevent body odors. Your work area should remain neat and clean at all times. Everyone in the office needs to be respected. This includes the cleaners as well as your fellow co-workers.

When in a meeting, avoid interrupting people when they are speaking. Make sure you always attend office meetings in good time and apologize for being late. It is also respectful to excuse yourself if you will not be able to attend a meeting.

If you interrupt anyone who is concentrating on their job, it is respectful to apologize. It is also important for you to show gratitude if someone extends a helping hand. Learn to say sorry, please and thank you and you will get along with others at your workplace. Avoid the fancy ringtones in the office environment. Do not be very loud when communicating to people in the office.

These etiquette rules must also be applied in the office kitchen. It is important to clean up after yourself. If you use any facility in the kitchen, make sure you leave it clean and tidy. The same case applies to the washrooms and other areas within the office. You need to treat your office like your second home since it’s a place you will be spending the most part of your days.


How to Meet New People – Immigrants guide to meeting new people in USA

Meeting people in a new place can be intimidating but it is also one of the exhilarating experiences.  You may have come to the US as a student or on work visa (H1b, L1) (the points covered below are generally useful for other visa classes like visitor/tourists too).  We will cover these 2 categories and show you how and where to meet new people.

If you are going to a college, its easy to make friends.  In most cases you will end up meeting people from your own country and make your own circle.  This is building your comfort zone and is a good thing in the short run.  However, from our own experience, we will ask you to venture out of your comfort zone and meet people from other cultures, especially American citizens.  This will help you understand the culture better and you will be better prepared for the real world once you go out to work for someone.

Learn about American sports:

One of the easiest way to connect with Americans and make friends with them is to develop interest in one of the sports that is popular in the place where you are living.  Acquaint yourself with the rules and follow your home team.  This will be your ‘common thing’ to initiate conversation with American friends.  This will also help you when networking in the work place (when you start working).  American football, Baseball, Basketball and WWE are most popular games in the US.

When you move to a new State for work or other purpose, make sure you pick and follow a team that is adored in that State/city.

Be the star of your domain:

When a student, be known for your academics and active participation in college events as this will help you connect with more people. When working, remember that you should be known for your ethics and expertise at work, this will instantly put you in touch with all the important people.

Be part of a group:

When in college, join an event group, help with the events, meet new people, be seen and heard. When working, join the groups that support development of your ethnicity in your office (most big companies have these kind of groups).  Participate actively and make connections.

Pic source: marcos_bh

Toast Masters:

Specially useful for people coming from a non-English speaking country. Toastmasters not only helps you hone your English speaking and presentation skills, it also helps you connect with people who share similar interests. If your organization doesn’t have a ToastMasters group of its own, you can join the local group.  For more information: http://www.toastmasters.org/


Volunteering is the absolute best and easiest way to meet like minded people who share similar values as you.  It will make it so much easier to connect with new people when you are working toward a same goal.  You can check out http://www.volunteermatch.org/. There are lot of other organizations that you can join and start volunteering.


This is one of the BEST ways to connect with new people, no matter where you are in the world.  Just go to www.meetup.com and register.  After that, search for your interest group in your area.  Join them, see when the next event is and show up.  You will be surprised just how many interest groups are there on meetup.

Sports/Outdoor adventure groups:

Each city has it’s own sports and outdoor adventure groups.  See what interests you and join the group that caters your interest.  Most of these are also part of meetup but I mention it separately to ensure that you don’t miss out any group that is popular and is not part of meetup.

Dating sites:

My least favorite option.  I mention it here only to point out the option but I don’t recommend this avenue.  If you must use dating site because of your situation you can check out: www.match.com, www.eharmony.com, www.plentyoffish.com.  One caveat when meeting people from dating site is use the services of the site that only hosts verified profiles.

What to say and what NOT to say

Warning:  This article maybe offensive as it uses ‘slangs and offensive words’ for educational purposes.  If you are under 18 years, you should not read further.  Not a complete list.  All the information may be an opinion only.
Your parents may have taught you to say certain words or they may have not but when you are in the US, frequent use of the following words can greatly help you:

Thank you – yes, thank you never goes out of fashion
Please – easier to say
Sorry – avoid situations that make you say it, but say it when required
Welcome – when someone says ‘thank you’, it’s a good gesture to say ‘you’re welcome’

Be polite. Adjust your tone based on social situation you are in (it’s not ok to speak loud in the offices but it may be the only choice in a bar playing loud music).

Those are the easy ones.  As they say ‘the things that can hurt you the most are the ones you don’t know about’, so here are few words that you CANNOT use in USA:

Please don’t be confused about usage of these words in movies, rap songs, comedy shows etc.,  Just because it is used on screen doesn’t make it less offensive to be used in our daily lives.  A group of friends gathered may use any or all of these words and it maybe ok, but since you are annon-immigrant, stay away from these words to be safe.

The N word:  In early 2000s, the N word was still used frequently in my home city, not with any derogatory intention but due to lack of awareness and updates in the way people address other races.We have not used the actual N word but you can what it is here: http://trueslant.com/davidknowles/2009/04/27/the-most-offensive-word-in-the-english-langauage/

Cunt: You can’t say it.  It ranks high on ‘offensive’ list, next to the N word.

Tits: Offensive, however common the usage, it is still offensive enough to get you into trouble.

Fuck: It is a common vocab now when used in group of friends or at a bar scene but it still is not an acceptable word to be used in many social situations.  Be safe than sorry.

Cocksucker: Cock when referencing male chicken is perfectly ok and so is suck when referencing popsicle or alike, but not ok to use together.

Source: Creative commons

Motherfucker: Again, combination and situation may get you in trouble.

Shit:Yes, I know I am being ridiculous for not letting you ‘shit’, it maybe ok to use it too but it is still offensive in some social situations and parts of the country (especially in the South).

Retard: This is a word that has recently come under lot of scrutiny and as a good measure, you should not use it to refer to anyone.

If you think that list is ridiculous, consider this list of 68 words that you cannot say on TV, I am pretty sure that what is not acceptable on TV is definitely not acceptable in most social situations.


Point is not to make you ultra-conscious about every word you say but to ensure that you are conscious of things that can put you in undesirable circumstance.

Remember that the above list is, however, a partial list of words that you cannot use in most situations.  The easy rule of thumb is ‘if you are not sure, don’t say it’.

Quick glance at the common rules

Things that may be ok in your home country but not in USA

Below list is for informational purposes only and is NOT a comprehensive list.  All information here is an opinion only, not a professional advice.

You will be surprised to find out that many things that go unnoticed in your home country may be considered offenses in USA.  Below is the list of things that may be viewed as offense subjecting you to fines and/or prison time and in some cases deportation.


Swearing in public:

Use of abusive, indecent, profane or vulgar language in public place, or use of language in way that disturbs the peace.  Also check out: what to say and what NOT to say where we covered some specific words that cannot be used.


You may be surprised to know that there are strict rules on what parts of your body you can and cannot expose in public places or in premises that can be easily seen from public space (that is, you cannot walk nude in your apartment with windows wide open if it can be seen from outside).  Females cannot expose nipples, buttocks or genital area.  Males cannot expose their buttocks or genital area.  So for female a swimsuit maybe perfectly ok to wear even in public (if you are so willing) but just a thong is not.  Same way, for men an underwear only maybe ok (why would you?) in most public places as long as it covers your buttocks and genitalia.  Again, each State has it’s own law – for example – in New York it is ok for a women to go topless in public places (non-commercial purposes) (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/nyregion/a-police-roll-call-reminder-women-may-go-topless.html?hp&_r=3&), but that is an exception rather than a rule.

What is ok in one State or situation may not be ok in other State or situation, so it is always better to be safe than sorry.  Find out what is appropriate attire in the place you are or going to and wear accordingly.

Public urination: 

It is NOT ok to urinate in any public space, this even includes secluded areas, sidewalks, highways, or any place other than ‘rest rooms’.  It may be ok in your country to find a secluded bushy area to take a leak, not in USA.  You may get away with it but if caught can cost you a fine or prison time for ‘public indecency’.

Driving without a license and/or insurance:

Driving without a driving license and/or insurance is illegal which may prompt fines, prison time and or deportation. Not only that, you will invite trouble for those who let you drive their vehicle knowing that you don’t have license and or insurance.


On most highways, if you throw any litter out, you could be subject to fine of up-to $1200 (or more in some States); wait until the next gas station to throw in the trash bin.  Also, it is not ok to litter in any public space.

Pet excrement:

You have to clean up your pet’s excrement.  If you don’t and you are caught – you may get a hefty fine.


You have seen the LasVegas and Atlantic City grandeur of gambling on TV or movies and thought that it is cool, but you may be surprised to know that gambling, to this day, is illegal in most places (except in State permitted licensed locations).  Online gambling is illegal too if the State you are living in says so.

Contact lenses:

In some States (Indiana for example) dispensing contact lenses to a person without prescription is an offense too.  So if you take up any job at a drug store, make sure you check for prescription, as required.


As in most countries, it is illegal in US too, that is, both performing and patronizing the prostitution.  Currently only Nevada State allows ‘legal’ prostitution but it is confined to specific counties (8 at the time of writing) which does NOT include Las Vegas.  So beware.


Do not get into fights, period.  Except in cases of self-defense (where retreat is not an option), if you initiate violence (in any form), you may get into lot of trouble including but not limited to – fines, jail and or deportation.

Pot is not cool: 

Ganja, weed, marijuana, pot or whatever name you call it, it is illegal in almost all States in US to smoke marijuana.  Due to the no-tolerance rules in most states, you could get deported if caught under the influence of or in possession of any illegal substances including marijuana.  The quantity of possession is of little consequence in the zero tolerance states. Medical marijuana is legal in some States with doctor’s prescription and only if possessed within the limits allowed.  There is list of 18 states and their limits for medical marijuana here: http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881

At the time of this writing, Colorado and Washington are the two states where you could possess marijuana for personal (recreational) purposes without medical reasons.  Of course, there are limits on how much you can possess.

Remember that any form of ‘illegal’ drug use or possession can get you in prison and/or deported.

Again, these are just few rules of the many other rules that you need to know to ensure you don’t get into any trouble.